Going “Green” in Ministry
By Jamie Rye
About six years ago I acquired my first ministry job outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was nineteen, eager and, after Bible school, sure I knew it all. Brought on as an intern to help start a fifth and sixth grade ministry, I was all over my role as a program director, and I believed I had all of the training I could ever need. I knew how to run sound, I could build a worship band, and lighting—yeah, I could run lighting. Little did I know that being a program director was so much more.
I soon realized that this role required philosophical understandings like how kids learn, the methods in which we teach them and what values are needed to create a holistic environment. I needed a new way of thinking and a new type of creativity that they didn’t teach me in school. Overall I felt under-resourced, severely disjointed and confused. Basically, real ministry life had happened. And so my journey began.
Several years into this position, I took another programming role with middle school students at the same church and had an “epiphany.” I was spending the day with one of my mentors, Steve. We were standing at the entrance of the student ministry’s room when he asked me a seemingly simple and yet extremely complex question: What type of environment do you want to create for students?
At first I thought, Really, environment? What does that matter? I had never thought of a “program” as an environment before. I had always thought of it more as a production: very linear, less organic and more structured. I was definitely missing out on something, and yet I had no idea what it was.
I’ve since learned that healthy environments are organic, purposeful, nurturing and always hospitable to growth. The environment we needed to create for our middle school students had to be about senses, safety, connection, cooperation and love. From this point on I began to understand my role as an environmentalist.
This article has nothing to do with recycling, global warming or saving the planet. These are all great, important and wonderful things that God calls us to do, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Rather, this article is about being an environmentalist—albeit of a different type. All of us are called to be environmentalists—our ministries are environments we must tend to, and our philosophy of ministry and education shapes what environment we desire to create. We must consider the “soil” we are growing in, and whether we have enough “water” or “sunlight.” (You definitely can’t forget sunlight!)
A solid mission statement pinpoints a clear direction for your ministry and establishes the basis or “soil” for the environment you’re creating. Then it’s time to think about “water,” the volunteers in the ministry, without which this environment can’t survive. Then there’s “sunlight”—God’s Word, the Spirit and what Jesus teaches as the key elements of growth. Soil, water and sunlight are necessary elements; true growth comes when all of these function together symbiotically. Only when we consider our ministries as environments can we fully realize the potential of what we have to offer.
I transitioned to a church in Southeast Michigan where I became the lead children’s ministry pastor. Everything that I have learned through the process of discovering my philosophy of ministry and my understanding of environments has shaped the way I lead our kids’ program environment. This past fall as we were brainstorming our theme for the upcoming year, I walked my staff through my journey and asked these questions:
- What would it mean to be an environmental ministry?
- What would this mean for the kids that come into our weekly program?
- What would this mean for their families?
- What do we need to do differently?
All of a sudden ideas were being thrown around—no holds barred, all out rethinking and re-imagining. “Hey, we could be family tree huggers,” one of the staff said. From this conversation birthed our kid’s ministry’s mission statement: “Serving, protecting and partnering with the family, building environments where kids experience belonging, shaping their identities and joining in Jesus’ mission.” These three aspects of our mission—belonging, identity and mission—affect everything from what a kid’s experience is like when they enter the kids’ area on Sunday, to providing opportunities for kids to love, serve and change the world.
Why was Sesame Street so successful? Because it created an exciting environment of education. Why is it that Blue’s Clues has a retention rate of around 90 percent? With repetition, recurring characters and simplistic learning as their soil, their environment is conducive to sustained growth. So my questions for you are: Are you willing to be an environmentalist? What sort of environment do you hope to create for your family, church and community?
Jamie Rye is a husband, father and children’s pastor in Michigan. He is currently responsible for developing the kids experience for the Wild Goose Festival and in his free time he is involved with the Daughter Project, an anti-trafficking movement, and a member of New Tribe Fellowship. Jamie enjoys disc golf and loves camping with his wife Kelly, son Jonah and two dogs.